“Ask a Priest: How Long Should a Courtship Be?”

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Q: If a person is discerning marriage, is there a specific time that is too long before arriving at an answer, or this more of a question of prudential judgment? Also, during that time of discernment is it appropriate to offer signs of affection (not in ways that would be reserved for marriage)? – E.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: As you say, it’s a prudential judgment. The Church doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules in this regard, especially since every relationship is unique.

A man and a woman might have different perspectives that affect a relationship. A man might be comfortable putting off a decision about marriage for years. But a woman who hopes to have children is mindful of her biological clock and might want to get married sooner than later.

These are generalities, of course; again, each relationship is unique.

One other consideration is chastity. It can become more difficult to maintain chastity during a long courtship, for various reasons.

You mention showing signs of affection. This already points to the challenge of chastity. On this point the only (relatively) safe advice I can offer is this: Don’t do anything with your girlfriend that you wouldn’t do if your families were present in the same room.

If that sounds tough, well, that is one reason why long courtships aren’t ideal.

In any case, try to maintain a solid prayer life and sacramental life. If you truly love a woman, you will look for ways to help her grow in holiness.

For more reading, you might check out the FOCUS page on dating, or the course on Dating Well. Count on my prayers.


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